SALT LAKE CITY — Recent headlines may have caused a scare among parents whose kids are excited to hit the gridiron.
For instance, some repeat a report that says ninety-nine percent of deceased NFL players' brains show signs of damage. Others quote Jamal Adams of the New York Jets who says the football field is the "perfect place to die."
With information like this circulating, it’s no wonder many parents are unilaterally ending their children's football dreams
But two football legends from Utah question this move. They think parents should definitely put their kids in youth football.
Scott Mitchell still holds most quarterback records for the University of Utah. He took the Detroit Lions to the playoffs twice and has since retired to his hometown of Springville, Utah. Jason Buck was a first-round draft pick out of BYU. As a defensive lineman in the NFL, he went to the Super Bowl twice, earning a ring with the Washington Redskins on his second try.
Recently, in their football-themed podcast "Rivals," they gave three reasons why parents should have their kids play football:
This is, of course, common to most sports. But as Mitchell points out, football is a different kind of opportunity.
“You are totally exposed when you go on that field," he said, adding that things like color or religion don't matter. "You have to lay yourself out on the line and find out who you really are."
He argues this kind of experience is invaluable to youths.
“You learn that you can persevere. You learn you can do these hard things. You learn how to communicate and get along with other people and how (to) work in a team environment,” he added.
Football pulls in a unique blend of action and strategy, Buck points out.
“All sports are great, but football is the greatest of all sports. … There’s nothing out there that requires what football requires of you, as far as a combination of teamwork and toughness," he said. "There's nothing as physical. Nothing that coordinates 22 starters at different positions and different techniques and different concepts of the game completely.”
As a former quarterback, Mitchell knows that even though people love the action, the players focus on the mental game.
“It requires a lot of thinking, but it also requires a lot of physical effort. So there's this extreme mental challenge to playing football,” he said.
Mitchell worries that some of the information being passed around is not properly understood or explained. For example, one study showed that 99 percent of NFL brains studied showed signs of CTE (brain damage) after death. What people don’t see in the headline is those brains were donated to the study because families already saw symptoms before the deaths.
“I don’t believe enough thorough research has been done," he said.
Mitchell and Buck argue that families should not equate the risks of professional football to the risks of youth football. They’re different, they say. And, they add, all sports have risks.
Additionally, and unlike some other sports, football at all levels is becoming safer. New equipment technology and new rules improve safety and are even leading to longer pro careers.
Buck has noticed how much the new rules have changed football since his time in the NFL.
“The NFL's been hurt defensively by this," he said. "You'll see a lot poorer tackling … than in our day, because people are shoulder tackling and arm tackling more. … (In our day,) our heads were missiles.”
Buck believes the changes make the sport better and safer, if a little less exciting.
Ultimately, the two former pros say the recent attacks on football are rooted in misunderstanding and sometimes misinformation.
“I think, 'Mothers, it’s safe to play football,’” Buck reassures parents. “Great coaching puts the kids in a great situation. They have a great experience in their life. Raise better men, greater men."
You can listen to Buck and Mitchell on Rivals.
Also, Mitchell interviews NFL legends at Helmets Off.